What is key to a reliable and creative process?
Undoubtedly asked frequently by many of us, this question was the subject of our forth ITAP lecture. Two of the most relevant issues on this matter are the ones related to Research and Practice.
“Research” is just another synonym for “Investigation”. It means that just as detectives gather whatever information they can to solve a case, visual communicators must delve deep into their problem in order to find ways of solving it.
I for example have had trouble correctly exposing my negatives. Ever since I started printing my photos, this problem seemed more and more obvious. It was hard for me to determine whether to overexpose or underexpose my negatives, in both cases risking of loosing information. Overexposure would yield good results on the print as long as it wasn`t over the edge (which was tough), underexposure would give the negative good tonality but make me use very short times in the darkroom and thus not get to the “saturation” point needed for printing (more here) .
I needed a solution for this. I didn`t turn up late as I was (luckily) reading through Ansel Adams`s autobiography. One of his greatest achievements regarding technique was The Zone System. This was relatively simple to understand: it meant dividing the tones of gray in a black and white composition into 11 distinctive zones, 0 being pure black, 5 middle gray and 11 pure white. He relied on the fact that each light-meter was designed to bring the surface it was measuring to zone 5. By making a bracketing test on the film he would use, Ansel Adams was able to determine what exposure compensation was necessary in order to reach the desired
Thus one need only frame the scene in his mind, divide it into the different zones, point the meter at one that he was interested (say…highlights) and make the necessary adjustments in order to bring it to the right level of luminance.
Simple enough but this method requires more time in order to get the exact vision of the image.
The other issue is about Practice. Practice is not only about looking at your own work, it`s also about looking up work from other artists and get to know how they managed to realize, what were the steps taken and how could these steps help you improve your own work.
Again I will refer to Ansel Adams`s work because it has proven most inspiring for me. What I was most interested in was finding out how he found the amazing landscapes that were later on to become some THE most amazing images of the American National Parks.
It turned out that the answer was quite simple: exploration. Working, working and working his way up the hills, Ansel Adams would almost inevitably stumble upon a scenery that he then carefully assessed and the immortalize. Carefully disguised in his pictures were signs of ecological awareness regarding the protection of US`s green gold. There was also a target audience of sentimental and sensible people as his photographs had numerous romantic motives (the lake, the moon, clouds).
One of his first successful image was The Monolith. For the first time, he did not try to make a realistic photograph but rather something that he`s mind`s eye was seeing. This was done with a bit of luck (having only two negatives left and just two filters: yellow and deep red) and skill: the red filter managed to give a more dramatic feel to the image.
Both of these tools will yield powerful results in creative hands and it must not be forgotten that each of them is essential if one wants to progress.